The 2008 Finals were amazing. They had an amazing match-up of the two premiere franchises over the history of the league, and the two best teams in their respective conferences this season.
It was a classic "great offense versus great defense" series. It had stirring come-backs, controversial injuries, surprising heroes, and for all us Lakers and/or Kobe haters, a most satisfying finish. (Yes, I have a strong anti-Lakers and anti-Kobe bias...I admit it.)
It also was quite informational. We learned the mathematically impossible could actually happen, the experts know no more than anyone else, and recent popular debates were even more ridiculous than we thought they were.
1) Sam Cassell is a mathematical impossibility
Math instructors nationwide looked on in awe and disbelief as again and again every mathematical theory long held to be an unalterable truth was dispelled as Fast Sam cranked up five shots within the first four times he touched the ball. The blur of motion as he touched the rock only to send it arcing towards the rim.
When asked if he was aware the traditional point guard role included occasional passes, Sam replied, "I passed it to them through the rim." Fortunately for Boston, the needed offense in the first couple of games and that is certainly something he is happy to provide.
2) Expert is easy to define: An Ex is a has-been and a spurt is jut a drip under pressure
Prior to the series a huge number of experts calmly predicted LA to win in anywhere from four to six games. Few and far between were those who predicted a Boston victory.
Of course, hind sight being 20-20, there were many signs the series might end differently: The results of the regular season games between the two, Boston's record against the Western Conference, the way Boston played in Detroit, taking two out of three.
In the end, it just demonstrates once more that the difference between the television experts and the average fan is money...the experts get paid to be wrong.
3) Bryant was not and is not the greatest ever.
Despite my anti-Bryant bias, even I will admit he is unquestionably one of the two best players in the NBA today. It would be tough to choose between he and LeBron James at the moment, though it also can not be argued Bryant has done it longer and more consistently. Certainly no team would refuse either player.
But these Finals reinforced the fact that, as good as he is, Bryant is not in the class of the best players ever.
For example, one cannot imagine a Jordan or Russell led team giving up a 24 point lead, or a Jordan being held to fewer points than shots multiple times. There were exceptions, but far too much of the time he was forced into contested jump shots and kept away from the basket.
It is a sign of his talent that he hit a number of those jumpers and there were individual quarters where he was dominant...but there were entire halves where he was a non-factor.
I have already argued that statistically he does not belong in the conversation, and he fails to measure up in Championship totals as well. Now we have seen that he also does not have the drive that separated say...a Michael Jordan from the other players of his generation.
To Bryant's credit (when asked about the Jordan comparisons) he said something along the lines of, "Why do you have to ask that? Why can't you just let me be me." I actually moved slightly towards liking him.
Bryant is a great player, but his performance in these Finals once more reinforces the distance between him and the greatest of all time.
4) Paul Pierce is better than we thought he was
Pierce certainly has some issues. He is an indifferent ball handler who at times makes stunning turnovers in key situations...see Game Five for example...and at times struggles with important free throws.
With that said, he also has a flair for the dramatic, a will to win, and whatever the truth of past behavior, he has learned to be a great teammate. Like everyone else, I heard rumors of his teammate snobbery. I cannot say if they were so. I cannot say if he refused to share the ball in the past.
I can say he stepped up on the biggest stage and, even when struggling offensively, found other ways to contribute. He was supportive of every teammate, and he showed sides to his game that I suspect many fans outside of Boston did not know he had. He is a capable defender and a solid cheerleader when he is on the bench.
5) The myth of the shortened bench being better
In the first few games Doc Rivers followed conventional wisdom. Leon Powe, Sam Cassell, and a small dose of PJ Brown made up the bench. Boston looked tired late and the Lakers defense looked fairly decent.
But when he expanded his bench to bring in Eddie House, James Posey, and Tony Allen the series completely changed complexion. Gone were the looks of exhaustion, the running out of gas, and the stiff Lakers defense.
And everyone contributed. At various times each guy came up big. Apparently players who contribute in the regular season do have post-season value after all...
6) Phil Jackson is not as good and Doc Rivers is not as bad a coach as we were told
It is not possible to dispute what Phil Jackson has done. He is unquestionably a great coach who has won with a variety of styles.
Remember the classic Bulls-Suns series where games were won by first team to 120? And then the series against the Jazz where it was more like first team to 90? He has guided a variety of styles of players and had great success.
But against the Celtics he was out coached, out motivated, and outmatched by Doc Rivers.
It was Rivers who adjusted his strategy, who was willing to take a chance with guys he had not been using in the playoffs, who adjusted to the way the games were called, and put in the right players at the right times.
In this year, in this series, Rivers was the better coach and that is something I doubt anyone believed going into the series.
7) It doesn't always work, but sometimes having three Hall Of Fame players is okay
A lot of teams have had three great scorers and gone nowhere. Remember those Sonics teams with Dale Ellis, Xavier McDaniel and Tom Chambers where all three of them scored 20+ every game? They never won a thing.
What was different about the Celtics? I don't believe this is a rhetorical question. The Sonics of yore had a decent bench, scored in bunches, and even had some success on the boards.
The unity of the Celtics...and more importantly, the devotion to defense, a concept those Sonics had heard of but never experienced, made the difference. Yeah, that is hardly a brilliant revelation...but it let me get off a cheap joke so I guess we will stick with it.
8) Sometimes players become associated with new places real quick
At the beginning of Game Six the scoreboard had a quote, a picture of Garnett screaming something, and his initials "KG". And I had no problem with that...he has truly become a Celtic. Weird.
Sometimes when a player is at one location for the bulk of their career and then goes to a new team, it takes a while to associate them.
Walter Davis played for the Blazers...but he was a Sun. Karl Malone spent a season or 2 in L.A. but he will forever be associated with the Jazz. Gary Payton played for the Lakers and won a title with the Heat but does anyone not primarily associate him with the Sonics?
Yet Garnett, a guy who spent the bulk of his career in Minnesota, and even had some pretty good teams there, has already become a Celtic. That is just bizarre. How did he gain such a strong association so quickly?
I could argue it was his dedication to defense or his role in bringing together three players who had always been "the man" who each gave a little something in terms of individual production to get a little something in terms of a Title.
I don't know, there is just something undefinable about how players become associated with teams. I will never really see a Clyde Drexler as a Rocket or a Scottie Pippen as a Blazer...they were too much a part of their respective first teams, communities, and team history.
It would seem Garnett was more integral to the history of the T-Wolves franchise...yet I already think of him as a Celtic. Amazing what a dominating season and a championship can do.
Last but not least) We learned that watching the Finals can be fun even with a defensive team in there.
I tried to watch the Cavaliers and Spurs but the defense there turned it into a soccer match...long periods of boredom interspersed with brief moments of sleep.
I have no problem with defensive play as long as there is something entertaining about it. The Lakers had spurts of forcing turnovers which led to baskets, as did the Celtics.
But the defense never slowed the game to a point where there were several minute stretches where you did not feel like you missed anything if you stepped away for a few moments.
Great job, NBA. This year, you got it right.